Volkswagen Jetta Review
Designed, developed and priced to sell in big numbers
By Imthishan Giado
Volkswagen is on a mission with this car. And that mission is quite simply, to sell a heck of a lot of them. With a stated price of $18,850, it’s laid down a gauntlet to its European, American and Japanese rivals that it’s deadly serious about achieving that goal.
It’s the lowest that the Jetta has ever been sold for in this region, and right in line with what consumers are currently paying for the evergreen Corolla and Civic. But surely it doesn’t make sense – why would you pick the booted Jetta, over the hatchbacked Golf? Particularly when, as most Europeans will know, the Golf comes with enough choices to make your head spin? The answer is right in that statement; in this region, we like sedans, not hatchbacks and we like them as cheap and cheerful as possible, which are not usually values that you associate with Wolfsburg’s product lines.
That partially explains why the Jetta – which truly was a premium, expensive-feeling sedan in its previous iteration –has been throughly de-contented in order to make that ambitious pricepoint. The external design is the first part of that strategy which is intended to fit in easier with the world’s rental car fleets. Certainly, it’s anonymous, the earlier handsome shield grille substituted for the current corporate nose and a three box profile that’s intended to lower repair costs, not raise pulses of any kind.
Affordability does not equal blandness
That approach, as it turns out, is what works in this segment ; see also perennial-seller and design non-superstar Corolla – but is it enough? Plenty of cars from other manufacturers like the current hot-selling Elantra and the Civic (at least in its previous version) showed that small cars are under no obligation to look as bland as possible. The automotive industry is one that’s absolutely ruled by design, and buyers for the compact car mass are among the most demanding around. They may not be spending much, but they want something that’s not embarrassing to be seen in. While the Jetta won’t stop anyone in their tracks, it’s a smart, handsome looking thing.
Inside, though, is where the real cost savings were made. VW interiors are traditionally right up there with Audi in terms of design and materials used, and the Jetta keeps the same look of its more expensive brothers, if not necessarily the same expensive look and feel. The dashboard is coated in nice soft touch materials, while the rest of the cabin gets hard, wipe-clean plastics that will stand up to plenty of abuse from absent minded commuters. Still, it’s far from pulse-quickening. The dials are clear but boring, which goes double for the switchgear. It feels well put together, but there’s little surprise and delight to be found anywhere in this cabin.
115bhp 2.0-litre four
If you’re spotting a theme here, it extends to the experience under the hood as well. There is but one engine choice available, a 115bhp 2.0-litre mill which is good enough to cruise frugally and quietly on the highway but turns overly vocal if asked to do anything further, producing more noise than actual speed. Best to let the six-speed transmission slip into high gear and cruise along, rather than attempt to race, well, anything else. Surprisingly, there’s better news from the handling department: the Jetta maintains its composure well in the corners, with understeer is kept to a minimum. The European feel extends to the ride, which gracefully absorbs most bumps without dissolving into a floaty mess.
The new Jetta presents an interesting conundrum; it’s a German car at Japanese prices, but it hasn’t got the same levels of precision in design that you would expect from Volkswagen. Nevertheless, while it’s clearly built to a price, it’s also abundantly clear that the car is meant to be tough and resilient in a market which takes absolutely no prisoners, and if the market chooses price over the last word in gadgetry, who is Volkswagen to argue? Based on the sudden ubiquity of the car on the roads of the UAE, one suspects that the makers of the original ‘people’s car’ will be laughing all the way to the bank.
How much? AED69,300 ($18,850)
Engine: 1981cc, 4cyl, 115bhp @ 5200, 125lb ft @ 4000
Transmission: Six-speed auto
Fuel Economy: 9.04 – l/100km
Performance: 11sec 0-100kph, 193kph
How heavy? 1306kg